There was a lot to like in Duke’s win over Pitt Tuesday night: resilience, defense and overcoming adversity are some of the themes. Jordan Goldwire played well on offense which was really nice to see. Vernon Carey had a monster game. Duke passed well.
Lots of encouraging stuff.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing though was seeing Wendell Moore dress out.
The versatile freshman didn’t play though and in this game, like several recently, you could really see how Duke could have used him.
Pitt has a bunch of guys between 6-3 and 6-6 that are highly athletic. Take Justin Champagne for instance. Like Moore, he’s 6-6 and can shoot outside or drive. Duke had trouble matching up with him.
The Blue Devils also had a surprising amount of trouble with Au’Diese Tony, a 6-6 sophomore who scored 27.
Prior to last night, he had scored in double figures six times. In his last five games, he scored 8, 16, 9, 7 and 9.
He’s a talented player but 27 points is an aberration and Moore would have been very helpful.
And don’t just think one-on-one defense. Think about him as a help defender. Think about him as a rebounder. Think about the pressure he can put on an offense. And with Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire and Cassius Stanley, he’s a force multiplier.
There were times last night when Duke was shuttling Jack White and Joey Baker in and out of the lineup, trying to find some way to slow down Pitt’s athletic wings.
We’re not saying that Moore is a panacea or a perfect player. He still makes some mental mistakes. He occasionally sails a pass over its intended recipient. He doesn't telegraph offense like he did earlier in the season but he occasionally takes a shot he should have thought twice about.
None of that matters and all of it has grown to be less of a problem as he adjusts to the college game.
What matters is this: you can stick him on Champagnie. If Toney gets hot you can stick him on Toney. If Karim Coubaly comes off the bench and makes a surprise impact and Matthew Hurt is in foul trouble and you also want to protect Carey, well, Moore can defend him for a few minutes as well.
Moore can also help out with ball handling if the other team presses and he’s a third point guard.
We’ve talked about how we admire Joey Baker’s heart and how he affects and improves the esprit de corps. He keeps showing flashes of a really good player, but Baker is still finding his way.
As good as he is though, and we think he may have the finest stroke at Duke since JJ Redick, he can’t offer what Moore does.
But what Moore does allows him, and Jack White and Alex O’ Connell, to play to their strengths.
What he brings to this team is hard to describe. He’s like the ultimate glue guy. You can look at any situation imaginable and then put Moore in the lineup and boom - things change.
He’ll never fully get the recognition he deserves unless he puts up big offensive numbers, but coaches and scouts understand what he does. He’s versatile, he’s strong and he can fit just about any situation and make it better for Duke.
When he comes back, which will be soon now, watch who he comes in for, who he guards, and how the game changes. His impact may be subtle but it’s huge.